Study Consumer Behavior To Provide The Reassurance They Need

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chad underwoodOver my years in this business, I’ve sold a lot of flowers, usually in mass quantities to big retail buyers. Some of those sales have been pretty big — millions of dollars even. Yet I’ve never been more proud of making a sale than times I’ve stood next to a fellow shopper in a garden center, providing them simple encouragement to make a purchase over which they were debating.

Consumers Need Reassurance

Nearly every time I visit a garden center, I have an experience that goes something like this: I notice a shopper appearing interested in a certain item. I watch them pick up and inspect the plant, read the pot or tag and make note of the price. They might even go as far as to place the item in their shopping cart and continue browsing the rest of the garden center for a bit, only to return the plant back to the bench it came from.

They give the little specimen so much attention and consideration. I can see that they want to buy it, but somehow, uncertainty doubt and indecisiveness prevent them from actually committing to the purchase. They hesitate. They’re just not sure.
And that’s where I come in. Before they can walk away for good, I simply say to them, “That’s a great plant you’re looking at! Good deal today, too!”

That’s it. Without fail, they look at me and reply, “Really? I’m just not sure.”

We then talk for a minute or two about the particular item. I tell them what I know about it, and I reassure them that they should buy it.

Guess what happens next? They do. Eight times out of 10, they end up putting that plant in their cart and walking to the checkout line. I know it’s eight times out of 10 because it’s happened to me so frequently in the past few years that I’ve started keeping track.

I’m convinced that the difference between them making the purchase or walking away empty handed is this simple act of me reassuring them that their selection is a good one. But why? Is the gardening public really so insecure about their ability to successfully select plants in their local garden center that they need reassurance (even if it comes from a total stranger) to feel good about their decision? I think the answer, at least in large part, is yes.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in all types of garden centers and in all regions of the country, from the pop-up parking lot shop to the highest-end independent garden center, and from New York to New Mexico. It’s become clear to me that people all across this country, and across all sorts of demographics, are worried they will buy a plant, bring it home and kill it. They’re worried that it won’t work in the spot they have in mind. They’re worried that it might not be a good deal. They need more reassurance than many of us might realize.

Information That’s Available May Not Be Clear Enough

I want to make something clear: I’m not a plant or gardening expert. Most of the time, the knowledge I share with these folks about the particular item in question is basic stuff: information that was probably already provided for them on a sign, the tag or the pot.

So why does my unsolicited interjection in these folks’ buying decisions make such a difference? Is it just the power of suggestion? Or the power of the testimonial? Perhaps it’s because the information provided to them in signage and on tags was read, but not really understood.

The answer might be found in the book by author Paco Underhill, Why We Buy — The Science of Shopping.

Underhill is the founder and director of a company called Envirosell, which for more than 25 years has been extensively analyzing shopping behavior. His company does this by unobtrusively observing (i.e., spying on) shoppers, and then making extremely detailed notes of every aspect of those shopping experiences. The company reports that it currently observes as many as 70,000 shoppers every year in all sorts of retail settings, ranging from retail stores to banks to government offices.

Underhill knows what he’s talking about and his book shares many insights from his company’s work over the years. Everyone who supplies, services, supports, buys for or develops products that ultimately get sold in a retail setting, ought to read his book if you haven’t already.

It’s a fascinating read, divided into three sections. The first section considers the mechanics of shopping — how people physically react to the layout of a store, other people in the store and presentation of displays.
The second section deals with the demographics of shopping — the different behaviors people exhibit depending on age, gender and even whether shopping alone or with another person.

The third section of the book addresses the dynamics of shopping: how and why shoppers respond psychologically to the placement of merchandise in a store, packaging of the merchandise, and to the merchandise itself.

Now I’m no sociologist, either, but this book helped me realize that there are reasons (a lot them) for why we all behave the way we do when we go shopping. As an industry, we would be well-served by better understanding the idiosyncrasies of consumer behavior associated with our particular business. It’s worth studying.

It’s Worth Studying Consumer Behavior To Understand Where Their Needs Are

I have all these little moments with shoppers and I can’t help but think to myself how many more plants we could sell in this country if only we better understood how customers shop for plants and why they decide to buy or walk away. If I were a garden center manager, I’d be working hard to observe my customers as they shop my store. I’d try to understand why they make the buying decisions they do. I’d engage with them and ask them questions.

Most of the people reading this probably already appreciate my first point that our customers need reassurance. But how many people are actively studying why that is, and what can be done to provide it consistently in the retail setting?

Knowledge is power, and your understanding of consumer behavior is going to sell a heck of a lot more of your plants than I ever will with the unsolicited testimonials and advice I give consumers when I happen upon the stores you serve!

Chad Underwood is a sales and management professional based in Westlake, Ohio, who has worked for Green Circle Growers, Express Seed Co., Kalamazoo Valley Growers Cooperative and Neal Mast Greenhouses.
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